Animistic Sculpture

Ancient shamanistic religious practices still survive in the remote mountain valleys of West Nepal. Ritual offerings of incense and prayers were made at primitive shrines to placate powerful mountain gods that could control weather, cause disease and influence all aspects of village life.

In this remote mountainous region ancient animistic myths permeated village life. Human images fulfilled parallel themes of ancestor worship while ritually protecting houses, crops and animals from restless spirits that cause discord and disease.

The original Magar and Gurung ethnographic groups populating this area exist at the margins of Lamaistic Buddhist culture to the north and the dominate Indo-Aryan Vedic culture from the south. These orthodox religious influences have coexisted side by side with shamanism for centuries in these mountains. The integration of traditional shamanism with introduced religious and social organization over many centuries has combined to form a curious cultural amalgam.

In northwest Nepal praying human figures adorned rooftops and shrines expressing universal animistic themes of fertility and abundance while paying homage to local mountain gods who protected crops and animals from natural calamity.

Primitive shrines paid homage to Masta, Birabo, Ban Jhankri and other mountain gods that could control weather and harvests. Wooden effigies with hands raised in supplication adorned primitive bridges and shrines for safe passage at dangerous mountain passes and the confluence of trails where ghosts and supernatural spirits often congregated.

Traditionally when a person was sick or injured a village shaman was consulted to intercede with the malevolent spirits that cause disease. A Nepali jhankri or dhami (shaman) garbed in traditional costume, armed with shamanic paraphernalia and beating a dhyangro (ritual drum) would become violently possessed while in a trance state.

A jhankri functioned as a spirit medium initiated with powers of divination and the unique ability to channel his personal divinity while possessed by it in a trance state.

In the Jajarkot region of west Nepal a jhankri may be a 'White Shaman' or a 'Black Shaman', one who practices animal sacrifice. Offerings of food, spirits and incense accompanied by mysterious mantras would be made in an effort to ritually mitigate the wrath of malevolent spirits and restore wholeness.

A jhankri may require a commemorative sculpture be made to appease the spirits and insure good fortune for the donor.

Figurative sculpture was often made of wood but occasionally local stone was used. Typically in an elongated form iconically suggesting a lingam, representing the primordial potency associated with the Hindu deity, Shiva.

Sometimes figures were ritually painted with layers of seto matto (white clay) to consecrate them.

Home | Contact

all rights reserved © R Brundage 2012